Iran readying major exercise as tensions with US simmer

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Iran's navy sent dozens of small boats into the Strait of Hormuz on Thursday, dramatizing its ability to choke off the strategic Persian Gulf waterway - a move that could send global oil and US gasoline prices soaring - and escalating the confrontation with the Trump administration for withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear deal.

US defense officials told VOA that the guided-missile destroyer USS The Sullivans was inside the Persian Gulf, and that several ships were stationed at Bahrain.

But US officials, speaking anonymously, said Iran's Revolutionary Guards has appeared to prepare more than 100 vessels for exercises.

"We are aware of the increase in Iranian naval operations within the Arabian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman", Reuters quoted Navy Captain Bill Urban as saying.

Iranian leaders have threatened several times in recent weeks to close the Strait of Hormuz in retaliation for the renewal of sanctions. These types of IRGC exercises typically happen much later in the year and the official said the United States assesses that the exercise is partly being held in response to rising rhetoric from the US.

"We also continue to advocate for all maritime forces to conform to worldwide maritime customs, standards, and laws", Urban added.

The Strait of Hormuz is a conduit between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman which provides the only sea passage from the Persian Gulf to the open ocean.

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Other sources said the Navy's 5th Fleet, which operates American assets around the Gulf, was weighing potential retaliatory moves to Iran's exercise.

"Respecting the Iranian nation's rights, reducing hostilities and returning to the nuclear deal are steps that can be taken to pave the bumpy road of talks between Iran and America", tweeted Hamid Aboutalebi, an adviser to Rouhani. Mr. Rouhani replaced the head of Iran's central bank last week, a figure many blamed for mishandling the nation's finances.

"Certainly, we'll continue to maintain freedom of navigation through that very important Strait of Hormuz".

Amid heightened U.S. -Iran rhetoric in recent months, analysts are trying to guesstimate how much Iranian oil the U.S. sanctions would choke off the market and how this supply disruption would impact oil prices. According to a USA official who spoke to Reuters last month, Washington has also launched a media campaign to spur the protests on and undermine the influence of the Iranian leadership, but some familiar with Iranian politics argue that this will have a boomerang effect.

A report from the Russian Energy Ministry said trade disputes were inhibiting factors for the global economy.

Saudi Arabia, Israel, the United States and others have long accused Tehran of pulling the strings of the Houthis, and Israeli officials promised a military response if Iran shuts down either the Strait of Hormuz or the Straits of Bab al-Mandeb.

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